Deuteronomy 32: 11 – 12
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
Happy St. Patrick’s Day! On this day, we eat corned beef and hash, wear funny hats, attend parades, search for leprechauns under four leaf clovers, follow the end of the rainbow to a pot of gold, pretend to be Irish and drink too much green beer. Today is a day of celebrating St. Patrick. But who is St. Patrick? Nine out of ten people believe that St. Patrick was Irish and that he introduced Christianity to Ireland – neither of which was true. So, who is St. Patrick?
Patrick was born during the 5th century near the western coastline of the Roman province of Britain. When he was 16 years old, he was captured by a group of Irish pirates. They sold him as a slave and he was held captive for 6 years in Ireland. While in captivity, he worked as a shepherd and there in the fields developed a relationship with God. In his Confessions he writes: “After I came to Ireland – and so tended sheep every day, I often prayed in the daytime…up to a hundred prayers and at night nearly as many.” After 6 years of captivity, he fled his master, and jumped on a ship heading back home to Britain. But Ireland had already captured his heart and he had dreams where he heard the Irish calling to him: “We pray thee boy, to come and henceforth walk among us.” Despite pleas by his family not to return for he may be put to death as a runaway slave, Patrick did return as a missionary to Ireland. So, no he was not Irish and no he did bring Christianity to Ireland – Christians were already there – but he did help to organize and expand Christianity. And there emerged a Celtic-Christian tradition of earth-honoring mysticism.
The Celts were pagans, heathens, Druids. Pagans, Druids, heathens are often deemed less than. “Oh, those heathens!” we say. But thank God for the heathens, the pagans, the druids! They teach us about reverence for the land. Celts know that the universe is alive and we must be attentive. The Druids are keepers of the soul, of the sacred. And it took over 20 years to become a druid as they studied the universe, the stars (light was sacred), and they studied herbal medicine – connected to the earth. The Celtic spiritual path is not one that follows a clear-cut pattern of having some end and goal in view like the Romanized Christians, but is like the flowing chords of Celtic knot work that we see in both pre-Christian and post-Christian Celtic art. The circle is seen as very sacred. In circle prayers, Celts chant, “Keep strength within, fear without.” “Keep peace within, anxiety without.” And so it is, that we sit in a sacred circle in worship this day.
The Celtic tradition is also replete with expressions and examples of the divine feminine. “The archetype of the wise, nurturing, and powerful feminine has a deep place in the Celtic soul. Unlike in many industrialized cultures, which have largely marginalized feminine power and have also victimized and objectified the feminine, the Celtic relationship to the feminine is one of great reverence and protection” (MacEowen, F., The Mist-Filled Path, p. 156). In the Celtic world we find a long-standing tradition of goddess worship. If St. Patrick used the shamrock to teach the trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit (which may or may not be true), the trinity to the Celts was the triple goddess. The Celts also found great inspiration in St. Brigid.
St. Brigid is the female equivalent to St. Patrick in Ireland, but there are no parades in her honor. Yet, St. Brigid was an Irish woman who followed her heart and took on the powers that be in a male dominated world. St. Brigid is said to have had healing powers. She is called the Saint of Abundance. The prayers of Saint Brigid were said to still the wind and rain. And she had a reputation as an expert brewer. She was reputed to turn water into beer. Handy on a day like today.
The Celts believed that certain rivers and waterfalls, hills and rocks are connected to holy feminine energy. For the Celts, the entire landmass of Ireland is considered the body of a mother goddess. The holy feminine energy is sometimes referred to as “Mothering Powers.” The Mothering Powers promote wholeness, integration, wisdom, intuition, and nurture. In our scripture passage this morning, we catch a glimpse of God as the Divine Feminine: “Like the eagle that stirs up its nest, and hovers over its young, God spreads wings to catch you, and carries you on pinions.” God as a mother eagle caring for her young. As the Old Scottish Highland saying goes, “Within the heart of God is the heart of a mother.”
Unfortunately, some forms of Christianity have a long-standing tradition of the subordination of women and the degradation of the environment. The pendulum of patriarchy has swung too far. We need the male energy, but now we must balance it with female energy. Make no mistake, the “Divine Feminine” is in no way a “women only” concept. We all have masculine and feminine energy in us which yoga calls the yin and yang. Jesus was very much in touch with his divine feminine energy. (His followers not so much). Some believe that 2012 marked the beginning of a 26,000-year cycle as the sun marches its way back through the signs of the zodiac. This is the dawn of the next great Divine Feminine. One Celtic Christian says this, “On a grander scale, befriending the feminine, welcoming the Mothering Powers back, are also at the heart of healing the matrix of Creation, of the planet, of humanity” (Frank MacEowen). In other words, our very lives depend upon it.
St. Patrick was given the title saint because he was said to have chased the snakes out of Ireland. Except there were no snakes in Ireland. Because of the way the island’s geography formed millions of years ago, it is actually one of the five major landmasses on earth with no native snakes. The snake was the symbol of the pagan people – the Celts and the Druids. And let’s not forget that, since ancient times, the snake is associated with the feminine. Perhaps, it is no coincidence that the biggest villain in the Bible is a snake nor is it not surprising that the ancient Celts used it as their symbol. They lived their lives close to the natural cycles of the earth and women were traditionally known as the keepers of these customs. When Christianity spread elsewhere in the world, the Christians did not gently persuade the local people to reconsider their beliefs, but often attempted to destroy a former way of life that threatened the new religion. And what happens to the threatened group? It drives people underground – like snakes – which makes the symbolism of the metaphor that much more powerful.
Snakes, however, are graceful creatures who shed their skin when they have outgrown it. As we grow spiritually, we do the same, letting go of that which no longer serves us – which of course, is the reason for this sermon series, “Naming the Unnamable.” Which words for God no longer serve us? Which words, images, understandings of the Holy are most useful and helpful in this critical time of human and planetary evolution? Like an image in a mirror, our God/Goddess image reflects back to us what we aspire to become. With the image of the Divine Feminine, may we harness our creative energy, release shame-based belief systems, honor our role as nurtures and wisdom givers. In so doing, softness will come to the world, humanity will live in harmony, and the earth will be called Eden once more.
On St. Patrick’s Day, as you search for leprechauns and chase pots of gold, eat corned beef and hash, and drink green beer, let us not forget to honor St. Brigid as well who teaches us of the Divine Feminine – the importance of healing, nurture, and wisdom in our world. Please join me in a prayer entitled, “Holy Brigid” that the Celts prayed:
O God / Goddess of compassion and healing,
You gave Holy Brigid to us as a sign of your love,
You caress us with the warmth of the sun,
You encircle us in Love’s embrace,
You are behind us and before us,
You are above us and beneath us,
We consecrate all that we are to you. Amen.